If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking a few times a month, and it's better late than never! Most reviews nowadays are labeled "FTP:" and you should read THIS PRIMER to understand why. Also, while they're marked nowadays, many of the site's older reviews (i.e. 2010 or older) do contain unannounced spoilers, so tread carefully! Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


FTP: Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

JUNE 21, 2022


Most "pile" movies are acquired (trivia winnings, unrequested review mailings, etc) but Death Walks on High Heels (Italian: La morte cammina con i tacchi alti) was apparently a purchase; as I tore off the shrink wrap I noticed a Fry's price tag. Fry's, for non locals, was a strange electronics store chain that seemingly specialized in outdated tech; whenever I needed an ancient kind of adapter or wire, I would almost always be able to find it there. Remember those "Game/TV" switches we used to have in the '80s for our 8-Bit Nintendos? I bought one there in like, 2013. So basically RadioShack, but with the size and scope of the glory era of Best Buy. The chain went belly up during Covid, but the writing was on the wall long before then - I remember going in 2019 and seeing several empty shelves, as if it were the last week of business.

It was probably on one of these final trips that I picked the movie up, since they for some reason always had a healthy supply of Arrow releases; it wasn't uncommon to see a Disney or Universal blockbuster be completely MIA but seven copies of something like The Stuff just sitting there. So it was probably on sale when I was getting something else and I was like "Hey, a Giallo I haven't seen!", but who knows. All I know is... it wasn't worth the wait. It's fine, nothing I hated watching or anything, but definitely falls in the "for completists only" section of the sub-genre, with only one solid twist at the halfway point setting it apart from a dozen others. It's a twist that has been done before (most famously in 1960, clue!) but it still surprised me all the same and gave the movie a little bit of a spark when it needed it most.

Alas, most of it is just too much "same ol" fare: the killer is after some stolen jewelry, there's a pervy guy across the way who is clearly NOT the killer but has to be there to give a red herring, etc. I tend to prefer the gialli where the killer is driven by some kind of psychological torment as opposed to a financial motive, but I can still be engaged if there's enough flair to the proceedings. Alas, the screenwriter even notes on one of the interviews that the director (Luciano Ercoli) was a guy who worked regularly because he could get the job done and on time, not because of his ability to dazzle audiences with his skills. So it's no surprise that the movie seemingly works from a checklist, with the script doing all the heavy lifting.

That checklist lacked one thing though: J&B whiskey! There's one (1) bottle in the middle of an arrangement, where you can't even see the label (the green glass and red top gives it away), breaking a longstanding tradition in these things. But on a positive note, it's slightly less misogynist than most of the era; a good chunk of the movie is about an older guy who is unhappy in his marriage and thinks the world of our heroine, so he treats her very well, and her previous lover isn't as much of a jerk as many of his counterparts. If not for a rather gruesome demise at around the hour mark, where the killer seems to be sawing the woman's throat with his knife, I'd say it was overall the least problematic (to modern audiences) one I've ever seen. So in that regard it might make for a good entry one for audiences who get easily offended, but at the same time it's so perfunctory that they likely won't be excited about seeing any others.

Even Tim Lucas seems kind of indifferent to it; his historian commentary is loaded with uncharacteristic stretches of silence - at one point I considered whether I had accidentally turned the regular audio back on. More often than not he's just sort of narrating the film and adding some insight about its themes, as opposed to noting its place in the sub-genre's canon, what its other actors did before/after, etc. There's some of that, of course, but nowhere near as much as average. The interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi is also seemingly disinterested in the actual topic; he spends nearly fifteen minutes complaining about how Sergio Leone changed part of his script for Once Upon A Time in America!

So it's kind of fitting that I acquired the movie so randomly in the first place. I certainly didn't set out to buy it; very likely just grabbing it while I was getting other things that I presumably watched already. Because it likewise seems like it's an afterthought for most involved, though lead actress Nieves Navarro married Ercoli a year later, so I guess something nice came from- nope, they met on The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, I'm now seeing. Maybe this one helped pay for the wedding? I dunno. It's fine.

What say you?


From The Pile Roundup!

MAY-JUNE, 2022


I haven't been slipping too much with my "pile" watching, but I *have* been slacking off when it comes to actually writing up the reviews after. Between Overlook, my growing obsession with Jurassic World Evolution 2, and the damn heat making me not really want to do much of anything, it's been hard to get motivated to sit at the computer any longer than necessary (i.e. for work). But alas, the site needs content or you'll all abandon it forever, and I have no idea when the next big horror movie comes out in theaters. Is it Nope? That's a month away!

So here are some of the pile movies I've watched over the past month, with even briefer thoughts than the "From the Pile" reviews offer to begin with. Sorry!

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969)
My friend Joe Canistro told me about this movie all the way back in college, but while I can't remember his exact wording, he quickly tempered my excitement (based on the title and the box art) with, more or less, "don't get too excited." But I didn't think it'd take another twenty plus years to finally watch it! Anyway he was right, it's nowhere near as fun as you might think based on the poster, but to be fair the title was changed from La venganza del sexo, as was the name of the character who'd become Dr. Humpp (it was Dr. Zoid or something). The producers also added in a lot of sex footage, not always (read: basically never) successfully matched to the original scenes/actors, but also recut it to be a little less plodding.

Well, neither version of the movie (both are on the Vinegar Syndrome release) is particularly good, so it's like a Halloween 6 thing where whichever version you watch you'll likely be missing things from the other one. But it's got some solid insanity here and there (the plot concerns a mad scientist who believes a healthy libido can make you immortal, which... you know, is certainly an idea worth researching either way) and the creature mask is effectively unnerving even now, so it was probably triply so in the late '60s. A fine curiosity, to be sure, but never quite hits the "batshit crazy" levels I hoped for.

Necromancer (1988)
Another Vinegar Syndrome release, this one a late '80s supernaturally charged rape revenge film. Elizabeth Kaitan from F13 New Blood is the unfortunate victim of an attack by a trio of frat bros, and there's a local witch who can help get back at them - all of this is fine. The problem is a. Kaitan doesn't seem particularly interested in dishing out revenge (her big plan is to just tell on them to the dean), so you get the unpleasant rape but none of the triumphant/deserved action where she fights back - she saves most of her rage for the damn witch lady! The other issue is that the rapists are largely forgotten (the main one is dealt with at the halfway point) in favor of focusing on her gross acting teacher, played by Russ Tamblyn. She's been having an affair with him, but he's also sleeping with other students, so yeah he sucks, but the movie treats him as its primary villain when at best he should have been another example of how men are awful. So it's just kind of wonky, with some truly terrible FX for the supernatural scenes.

Hell or High Water (2016)
This isn't a horror movie but it was in the pile. Good stuff! Chris Pine and Ben Foster are bank robbers with a noble cause - they're stealing from the bank chain that is trying to repossess their family farm, in order to give them their own money to save their land. That's awesome! Jeff Bridges is the "three days from retirement" type lawman who is on their trail, doing his usual thing from the past decade. It's not particularly inventive, but it's a solid watch all the same; has a No Country for Old Men kinda vibe in its final reel that I enjoyed more than the traditional showdown I was expecting. Kind of funny that the best movie from the pile wasn't horror, heh.

Dreamscape (1984)
One of those mid 80s cable staples that I somehow never actually watched, but I'm glad I waited until we had things like the internet and blu-ray bonus features. Why? Because as a kid I wouldn't have been able to quickly determine that the producers clearly got hold of Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm St script (which he famously shopped around town for years before finally securing financing, i.e. lots of people saw it and perhaps stole from it). Even if I was tempted to chalk it up to coincidence that, for example, the film's villain suddenly attacks with razor fingers during the climax despite never having them before, the producers themselves admit to rewriting the film just before it finally went into production after its own lengthy wait to get it going. And one of those rewriters was none other than Chuck Russell, who'd go on to direct Dream Warriors.

All of this is more interesting than the majority of the film, which has some fun scenes and assuredly provided many a kid with nightmare fuel throughout their adolescence, though it for the most part sticks to action/fantasy than horror. Dennis Quaid is fun as the hero, but the plot of a slimy business guy (Christopher Plummer) using Quaid and the dream sharing tech to manipulate the President into nuclear war never rings true due to the film's low budget, where the President comes off more as a local congressman than the leader of the free world. The FX are inventive, sure, but they don't look all that great either, so that also makes it harder to buy into what the movie is selling. I'm sure if I saw it when I was 6 I'd love it and look past all these flaws as an adult, but alas. A fun enough one time watch and nothing more.

Dementia (2015)
A few years back I saw Dementia Part II at a festival, but was assured it had nothing to do with this film beyond sharing a couple cast members (in different roles) and producers. And they were right! Where that film was a splatterific weirdo gem, this is a straight psychological thriller about an older guy (Gene Jones) who has a stroke and possibly, yes, dementia, forcing his son and granddaughter to hire a live-in nurse to care for him. But it's clear the nurse (Kristine Klebe) is up to no good, and over the next 70 minutes or so you just have to accept about a million coincidences and lapses in logic (for starters, the son apparently doesn't even check if this random woman who showed up at their house actually works for the hospital like she claims) if you want to enjoy the solid performances and admirable approach of making Jones deserve the torture. Picture Misery if Paul Sheldon was a MeToo predator or something and you'd be on the right track. If they had just worked on the script a bit more (not to mention the sound editing, oof - keep the subtitles on!) this could be a minor little gem, but instead it's mostly just funny to think about people who saw this and then went into "Part II" expecting a legitimate sequel.

I think that catches me up, and I promise to do better in the future!

What say you?


Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

JUNE 8, 2022


I blame Jaws 2 for the continued success and (more specifically) my continued support of the Jurassic Park franchise. See, I know Spielberg has made better films than the 1993 original, but for me personally it remains my 2nd fave of his filmography (after, yes, Jaws); a film I can throw on any time and be almost as enraptured as I was the night I saw it (a school night no less!) as a young lad of 13. I feel that's an important thing to note - by 13 I was already moving beyond loving every movie I saw just because I saw it, so while I don't doubt nostalgia plays a part in my love of the film, it's not like Shocker or something where my adolescence is doing the bulk of the work. Jurassic Park is a legit great adventure movie, silly plot and all. And by reteaming its core trio of Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm for the first time since, Jurassic World Dominion could have easily been my favorite sequel.

And that's where Jaws 2 comes into play. As much as I love Jaws, I think Jaws 2 is a solid followup (3D and Revenge you can burn in a fire) that is probably the best a sequel to Jaws can be especially without Spielberg or 2/3s of its own iconic trio. And so I go into each Jurassic Park sequel with the hope that someone can measure up and make the "Jaws 2" of this franchise; a sequel that is a step down but still something I can fully enjoy. But alas, I've never gotten it, and worse, I can't ever even decide which one of the now five followups is my "favorite", for lack of a better term. I just rewatched them all (for World and Fallen Kingdom, it was my first rewatch since theaters) and all I can tell you for sure is that Jurassic Park III is my *least* favorite. After that I might as well just toss the other four movies in the air and jot down their order of landing to determine their rank. My disappointment with each film just helps the next one; my expectations are pretty low, so when it's merely "fine" it almost seems like a win.

Which means yes, Dominion continues the tradition of the others, in that it never registers as a good or even pretty good movie as a whole, but has some borderline great sequences that keep it from being a total waste of my time, some great model/CGI hybrid work to bring the dinos to believable life (which is why 3 ranks last, I think - the FX in that one are by far the weakest in the series), and a couple of characters I enjoy hanging out with for a bit. But like the others, it also never once justifies its own existence; the films make money and therefore Universal makes more of them, but it's clear that no one has any genuine ideas to go along with them anymore. Jurassic World's "What if the park opened? And was so successful/incident free that people were actually getting bored of it?" is a genuinely fun idea that has shoddy execution, but apparently they should have just let the park run normally, because Fallen Kingdom was mostly just a retread of Lost World and Dominion bungles things further by barely utlizing its predecessor's twist of letting them all go free on the mainland.

Sure, there are many scenes or little vignettes that show what a world with dinosaurs is like (presented via "Now This" episode in the first few minutes), but for the most part it's treated kind of like the "blip" in Spider-Man: Far From Home, where we get a few gags about it and then largely move away from the idea, hoping no one notices or at least minds that THAT stuff would likely be far more interesting than what we get instead. Writer/director Colin Trevorrow even has the audacity to stage the film's final hour in an isolated compound nestled between some mountains in Italy (I think? There's a LOT of locations to keep track of in this one; it's practically Bondian), rather than finally dive into the idea that dinosaurs are just kind of wandering around populated areas. So for large chunks of the film, its central hook (man and dino sharing the planet) is irrelevant, and it feels like a copy of a copy.

Same goes for its other selling point, which is that it brings back our OG faves and has them mesh with the new characters (Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Isabella Sermon, the clone girl from Fallen Kingdom), but Trevorrow bungles that too, since the fact that it happens is technically a third act spoiler. Hell, the characters barely even interact with their own friends; Alan and Ellie spend most of their time away from Ian, and Owen and Claire are also repeatedly split apart by going off on their own adventures (by choice or circumstance). I didn't clock it exactly but I'd be shocked if the scene where they finally all come together occurred earlier than the 100 minute mark in this 2.5 hr film. And then almost instantly they split up again, though at least in different pairings (the two women go off - and pass the Bechdel test, which is in the news again for very dumb reasons - to reboot a system while Grant and Grady do their own mission. Malcolm just sits in the control room), so most of their interaction is limited to introducing themselves or offering cringey dialogue ("You're the guy who trained raptors!" is I think the only direct line Grant gives to Grady). A better writer would have found a way to get everyone together by the hour mark at the absolute latest, letting the second half (and change) coast on the thrill of seeing all these people join up for the first time to face a new threat. I feel there's another movie about six characters from different movies that did just that? Forget the name, came out like a decade ago.

Why does it take so long, you might be asking? The answer is, of course: locusts. Confused? Yeah, me too. For some goddamn reason, Trevorrow decided that the plot should revolve not around dinosaurs, but genetically enhanced locusts that are wiping out crops in the midwest - except for those that are being grown with Biosyn products. Biosyn, you might barely remember, is the rival company that paid Nedry to steal the embryos in the first movie, and now that InGen is in tatters due to the Jurassic World incident, they're the top guns in this field. It's even the same guy running the show, Dodgson (of "We got Dodgson here!" fame), but he's now played by Campbell Scott doing a whole Steve Jobs thing, feeling nothing like the guy we briefly met almost 30 years ago. Anyway, in public they're this super altruistic company, protecting the dinos and researching cures for cancer and such (no covid mention, even though it was shot after the whole thing began - guess they didn't have the stones). But Ellie (going off a tip from Malcolm, who is working there for reasons I never quite tracked) believes the locusts are their doing, so she recruits Grant to get to the bottom of it. And - I don't need to tell you this, but just in case - she's right!

Meanwhile, Owen and Claire are raising Maisie the clone girl out in the woods somewhere, and BioSyn wants her too, because she can unlock more genetic whateverses. Long story short, Trevorrow almost seems like he'd rather point his camera at anything besides the potentially fun idea of seeing Ian Malcolm hit on Claire Deering, or Owen Grady argue with Alan Grant about how we should interact with velociraptors. Or, you know, dinosaurs. It's the longest movie but I swear the dinos have less screen time than they have since the first film, where they were understandably withheld for key reveals. Even the film's big new baddie, a Giganotosaurus, only appears in a couple of brief scenes.

Worse, they're largely devoid of any real thrills or danger. They keep saying this is the last movie, so I'm thinking OK, maybe they'll kill off Ian or even Alan just to raise the stakes a bit, Scream 5 style. And when Dr Wu reappears out of nowhere (now working for BioSyn and seemingly regretful about his evil actions), I thought for SURE he was a goner. But no. There's only one human death of note in the entire film, and even your kid can probably guess who it would be. And it's off screen anyway, so you don't even get the cheap thrill that we got when previous human villains like Gennaro or Ted Levine got their just deserts in the previous films. There's a certain nonchalance from the actors (Pratt in particular) that keeps a lot of the action scenes from ever feeling as perilous as they should, as if they were being roped into a TV special or Universal Studios ride instead of a blockbuster feature film. Kids won't be scared by the movie, they'll just be bored.

But again, it does have some solid standalone sequences. There's a bit where Owen and Kayla (a new character; a merc who becomes an ally) are trapped on rapidly cracking ice with a raptor closing in on them, and a fun scene where Grant, Ellie, and Maisie are making their way through a cave system that's been overrun with some other kind of smaller dino (kind of like a raptor, Deinonychus maybe?). It's not an overly elaborate scene, but the sometimes puppet-y effects and Neill's occasional indifference to them makes it feel like a family making their way through an actual theme park ride, so it tickled me. They even manage to get some of the awe back to the proceedings, like in an early scene where Maisie comes across a pair of brachiosauruses who have wandered into a construction site, with the workers dropping everything to help lead the beasts to safety.

So like most of the other sequels, it doesn't fail to give us "moments", but it once again doesn't manage to become a successful whole. And since it's almost a half hour longer than the others, that's asking a lot, especially nowadays when the smarter of us are being a little choosier with how long we opt to spend inside an enclosed room with a bunch of strangers with their mouths open to shovel popcorn in. This should - and seemingly very easily COULD - be one of those "This is why we need theaters" kind of movies, but right now Top Gun 2 is taking that crown. More than once I felt the film was being restrained; maybe they weren't comfortable shooting in covid times (they had only just started shooting when the world shut down, picking back up in late summer 2020 before we had vaccines and such) and had to rework some things? But then again, Trevorrow had no such restrictions when he made his first film (or the second, which he didn't direct but still wrote and produced) and those have a lot of the same problems, so I can't quite bring myself to believe the pandemic was the only issue here. Ultimately, it's nice to see Grant and the others again, and there's nothing in the movie that made me flat out angry, but I checked my watch several times, and that shouldn't be the case when you consider the elevator pitch for this film. I'm used to these movies being kind of dumb, but I've never considered them boring.

What say you?

P.S. Minor spoiler here: given the appearance of a certain iconic prop from the first film, I guess the Telltale Game is now canon?

P.S.S. Since they cut it from the movie, instead of the trailer here's the "prologue" that was shown in IMAX last year.


Overlook Film Festival Wrapup!

JUNE 2-5, 2022


After having a blast there in 2018, I knew I wanted to go to Overlook Film Festival again someday. I can't remember why I didn't go in 2019 (financial reasons, I assume) but I didn't have much of a choice in 2020 or 2021, as covid forced them to do it online, which isn't quite the same. So when I saw they were returning to a physical fest for 2022, I instantly took the dates off work and vowed to go (luckily I bought my flight before the gas prices sent airline tickets skyrocketing in turn). And, as a special treat to myself, I didn't apply for a press badge via any of the sites I've written for, opting to just buy a pass and attend like anyone else, allowing myself to have fun and not worry about turning around reviews, doing interviews, or any of the other things that can dampen the enjoyment of a festival when you're working.

As a result, I didn't push myself to hit a movie at every slot and do all of the other things the festival offered. Instead of seeing another movie on the first full day, I walked off site to enjoy a horror trivia game (my team won a round outright and tied for another, out of four total - not bad!), and on the last night I skipped the final slot and treated myself to a normal dinner in a restaurant instead of wolfing something less healthy down in between films (hell I only got beignets ONCE, which is embarrassing!). But it's not just the disinterest in the grind; I'm getting older, my friends. I can't run on fumes like I used to, and since covid is still very much a real thing (despite what many seem to believe), I had to put my wellbeing first and take it easy. And hell, even with my reduced schedule, I still slept for almost 11 hours when I returned home on Monday!

The flipside is, alas, missing out on stuff, including both the winner and runnerup of the audience awards, as those slots were either spent seeing (lesser?) films or just taking a break. Not counting Sleepwalkers (which screened with a live recording of The Kingcast podcast, run by two pals who I wanted to support) I only saw six movies while I was there, which is a pitiful amount for a three and a half day festival - younger BC could have done double that! I really need to start embracing the idea of screeners. And I also missed out on pretty much all of the interactive game, as the 90+ temps had me not really wanting to walk around the city looking for clues (I only did the first part, which was indoors - and it was fun for the record). Last time I went it was held in April, which was much less humid and not as hot, so I hope if they CAN move back to that time that they do. No one wants to sweat all day.

Anyway, without further ado, here's a quick recap of all the films!

I never saw Ana Lily Amirpour's second film The Bad Batch, because everyone who DID see it seemingly hated it so I figured I was fine to skip it. But as a fan of her first movie (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) I was excited to see this one, because it sounded more horror-y on paper (an escaped mental patient with the power to control minds!) and was also shot in New Orleans, making it an ideal film to see at this NOLA-centric festival - I even booked a more expensive flight to ensure I would be there in time to see it! (A good call since my friends who took the cheaper flight did indeed arrive too late to see the film.) And it's pretty good, though I can't say I loved it - it's a little too loose, narrative-wise, for my tastes, with some tonal shifts that also left me a bit cold. Our hero (Mona Lisa) is just kind of wandering around the city for a while, using her powers mostly to get food, when she finally crosses paths with Kate Hudson (who is top billed despite her late entrance), a stripper who is kind of a garbage person. At first she's just using Mona to harmlessly bilk dudes at the strip club out of their cash (fine, f them!) but then they start robbing people at ATMs, which is less deserved. Their antics catch the attention of the police, of course, led by a woefully miscast Craig Robinson as the one cop who knows something supernatural is happening. The rest of the cast is good (kind of novel seeing Hudson ditch her girl next door persona to play such a jerk), in particular Ed Skrein (who I usually dislike!) as the world's most helpful DJ/drug dealer, and the relationship between Mona and Hudson's son (who kind of rightfully hates his mom) is very sweet, but the herky jerky screenplay kept me from loving it as much as I might. Amazing final scene though; almost made up for all of my issues with the film. Almost.

My favorite movie of the fest, and one I'd probably like even more if The Night House didn't just come out less than a year ago. Because this movie is ALSO about Rebecca Hall trying to get past an old lover who has seemingly returned to haunt her, though in this case he's a flesh and blood human monster. Tim Roth plays the ex, who was a former teacher who manipulated her into being a slave of sorts to him, and then apparently murdered their baby when she got pregnant. She is now with another daughter (whose own father is unknown; not Roth - she purposely hooked up with bar strangers until she got pregnant, to try to replace the baby she lost) and worries that Roth will harm them both, but of course no one believes her, including her daughter who starts to pull away. What Roth wants is a surprise best left to viewers, but I will say this - if not for Men, this would lay claim to the year's most jaw dropping WTF ending. But it's in a better movie, so I think it gets the W.

I might give this one another chance someday, as on paper (and occasionally in execution) it's right up my alley: a bullied teen named Sara (the title refers to one of the horrible nicknames she's given) catches the attention of a psycho who opts to "defend" her by killing the bullies. And so the movie focuses on Sara's dilemma - does she tell the cops and the worried parents what she knows, or does she let this guy do what he's doing in the hopes that maybe her life will suck a little less? Unfortunately, the pacing is all off (I wasn't surprised to learn it was based on a short film); it seems like we spend nearly half the movie on repeated scenes of people yelling at Sara to tell them what she knows, and Sara running off to pout about it. It gets to the point where I stopped feeling bad for her, which is perhaps the point in some kind of "don't stoop to their level" kind of message, but it's muddled/lost in the grueling pacing and Grand Guignol gore that seems like it's something we're supposed to cheer for. The idea is sound, but something was missing to make it as engaging/exciting as it should have been.

Quirky little "mumblecore" kind of movie (the script is attributed to the film's director and the four major cast members) about a woman named Elena (Blair Witch's Callie Hernandez) living on her grandmother's property in New Mexico, who seemingly does nothing but hang out in the mobile home except for occasionally giving a ride to a quiet friend named Benny. One day while pumping gas she sees an old friend (Jessica; the title is derived from another character's lisp) and invites her to hang out. The friend waffles, then takes her up on the offer, and later we discover why the woman is being so strange: she had a stalker who she finally just killed, and his corpse is in the trunk. Elena helps her bury the guy on the vast land her granny owns, but then his ghost returns and continues harrassing her. However, this isn't played for scares - as Elena explains, he can't do anything but annoy them. Director Pete Ohs has a blast mocking these pathetic incel types, as the stalker ghost continues to whine about how unfair it is that she doesn't love him back just as he did in life. There are other little twists involved, but this very short (70 minutes with credits) film is mostly focused on the pair's friendship and how they can leave the past behind, making it kind of surprisingly sweet in its own weird little way. Definitely not a movie for everyone, but a nice surprise if you can get on its wavelength.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday I hope all filmmakers will realize that when a major character talks to someone out of earshot in a movie, it is instantly telling the audience that "All is not what it seems." The movie starts with Winona Ryder and John Gallagher Jr on their way to a weekend retreat at an AirBNB he booked, but when they get there they see another couple has seemingly also booked the joint. Gallagher goes to talk to the other couple while Winona waits in the car for a minute, and the camera stays with her, not allowing us to hear what we're supposed to think is a conversation that's essentially "Hi I think there's been a mixup..." So we know Gallagher's hiding something, a fact that the movie waits another 30-40 minutes to spell out for us. We're repeatedly told that the cell service is "spotty" up there, but why he didn't just text the people to tell them about the change in plans is just one of the many times in the movie where we need to accept that no one in this movie acts like a normal human being, because otherwise the plot wouldn't work. That said, it's still engaging enough due to Winona's performance, as well as Dermot Mulroney as the home's actual owner, a burnt out hippie type who walked away from a promising biowhatever career in Silicon Valley. The two of them confronting their age and feeling old compared to their younger co-stars (yes, Gallagher being much younger than Ryder is a plot point, not a weird casting decision) resonated with me, enough to mostly forgive the shaky structure that jumps between two timelines when it feels like answering a question or two. It's not as simple as "Gallagher wanted to get rid of her" or something, I'll give it that much, but there's still a hefty chunk where we are way ahead of Ryder, which is never the best idea. Once Mulroney enters the story in full force it picks up, I just wish the movie didn't have to win me back. And the end is a bit of a copout; without spoiling anything, Ryder says something that I thought was daring, but turns out to be a ruse - I woulda just gone with it! Why not?

My last movie at the fest was also my least favorite; what a sad way to end my time there. Ever see Yoga Hosers? It's basically the same thing, with two slacker girls/besties working at a dead-end job (an ice cream stand in this case) encountering all kinds of supernatural oddities. It starts off OK, with one of them having been bitten by a werewolf and convinced they're going to change that night, with the other friend standing guard to make sure she doesn't hurt anyone, only for them to inadvertently kill (shoot) their friend who was attempting to scare them - the idea of people being afraid of monsters and end up in some kind of Coen-y "the bodies keep piling up" situation with zero monsters would be a lot of fun! But no, there IS a werewolf. And a witch. And a sasquatch. And a cult, for good measure. It just gets tiresome before it's even half over, and the scattered laughs get less and less frequent (and less funny to boot). It's directed by Sung Kang for some reason (he has no other credits in the film, so it's not like it's some passion project), so it will draw some attention due to that, but otherwise I'm not quite sure who the target audience is for this, as it's fully R rated but has a plot that seems like someone jammed together five Goosebumps episodes, with some actors (the old guy who runs the ice cream place in particular) seemingly not getting the memo that it's NOT meant for 8 year olds. A very weird project, albeit not entertaining enough to warrant a curiosity viewing.

Anyway, like I said I wasn't attending as press, so I didn't have access to screeners or anything that might have allowed me to see more. But that's OK - I'm also trying to get through "the pile" in speedier fashion than I have been, so it's not like I'm hurting for anything to watch. Hopefully the audience winners (Sissy and Deadstream) find their way to Shudder or Netflix or whatever in due time and I can check them out on my own time. Until then, I was happy to be there if not always up to my full strength/energy, and look forward to returning someday under what I hope will be better circumstances re: pandemic and weather so I can fully embrace the joy that is the city itself, and festing with friends (one of whom indeed had to back out at the last minute due to getting covid :( ).

What say you?


Men (2022)

MAY 19, 2022


I am a (straight) white man. I'm sure that's obvious to anyone who's read my nonsense for a while now, but just to be sure it's clear, since "guys like me" are the target of Men, which takes the idea of how we're "all the same" to its absolute extreme by (spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen the trailer, or just suffers from face blindness) writer/director Alex Garland's idea to have all but one man in the film be played by the same actor. It's a fascinating concept, and I could spend the entire review praising the performances of both Rory Kinnear as (well, the title character!) and Jessie Buckley as Harper, the woman who is terrorized, gaslit, menaced, etc by them all after the death of her husband.

Unfortunately, I can't do that. Yes, they are terrific and make the movie worth seeing; Kinnear is so adept at making different characters I suspect someone who hadn't seen the trailer (which makes it clear with a rapid cut montage of all his characters back to back) might not even realize they're all him until the one scene where split screen technology is employed to let a few of them interact, where it seems even a child should be able to pick up on it. One of them is a "m'lady" type with horrid teeth, one's an aggro cop, another is a child (I got real Clifford vibes from that one), one's a soft spoken vicar... they couldn't look/act more different, which is of course part of the point when, as it turns out, they are ultimately all the same. And Buckley (who I am unfamiliar with) has to walk a fine line; we're never sure if she doesn't realize the men are all the same, or simply doesn't care, and that particularly ambiguity is one of the movie's strengths. Similarly, she is playing a tough role of a woman who lost her husband to suicide (so she's grieving!) but said husband was an abusive jerk she was leaving (so she's... glad he's gone? Maybe?). Through Facetime calls with her bestie (or sister? I couldn't tell) we get a bit of her inner turmoil, but otherwise she plays most of the movie just reacting to the increasingly unsettling events around her while maintaining her composure, as if she allowed herself one outburst she might never stop. There's a scene where she does finally let go and it's downright gutwrenching, with Buckley totally selling the idea that this may in fact be the first time she fully broke down since the husband died.

But their performances are kind of all it ultimately has going for it, because it feels oddly stunted, as if they shot a first draft of the script. I wasn't annoyed that I was being targeted, I was annoyed I wasn't made to feel guiltier about my own actions over the years. Let us have it! Instead it's just... well, what I've already said. Men are all the same! Yes, and? It almost feels like Garland could have popped up in the corner like the "Toasties!" guy in Mortal Kombat every ten minutes or so to shout "You're all the same!" without digging deeper or doing much else with the idea. The lone surprise that the trailer didn't reveal is a bravura, rather disgusting trip into body horror territory that highlights most of the film's final ten minutes or so, but it feels like that should have been the midpoint, or at the very least the end of the second act, prompting further developments. Instead it just kind of ends a few minutes later without fanfare; granted the theatrical experience has been curtailed over the past two years, but not since The Turning have I felt an audience genuinely confused that a film ended when it did.

In fact, it prompted me to do something I never do for a movie I planned to review myself: I read other takes, assuming I missed something. Like, imagine how the ending of something like Inception would play if you missed the earlier explanation of the top spinning, or something to that effect. I specifically looked for women's takes on the film, figuring their experiences with us idiots over the years would allow for insight that would go over my head (and I consider myself to be fairly attuned to this sort of thing; I can think of a few male acquaintances who will watch the entire movie, particularly the Vicar scene, without realizing how much of a jerk the guys are) and "unlock" the movie for me. But amusingly, the female takes I read were, on average, less enthused than the males' own responses. So alas, it didn't help much, everyone seems to agree that it was a movie where the ideas were solid but the execution not so much. Even the most positive reviews note that the film is more of an experience than a narrative.

And that's fine! But I prefer the latter, so I couldn't help but feel disappointed, both as a fan of Garland's previous films (Ex Machina and Annihilation) and as a man who wanted the movie to really rake my gender over the coals. I mean really, I can go on Twitter and say something mildly misogynist (as a joke/experiment to be clear!), and get dressed down more effectively in half the time. Instead, I walked out thinking I just saw the first hour of what was a pretty great little old school Hammer-esque "the town is *off*" kind of film, and then an effective makeup FX reel (there's an arm injury that might top the one in Green Room for "THINGS I ABSOLUTELY NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN!"), without enough cohesion between the two to come out fully satisfied. In that regard, the film is perfectly successful as a metaphor for men: we have our strong points, but the whole package leaves you feeling underwhelmed and possibly even angry. Your mileage will of course vary, and I hope whatever gender you are, you are able to take more from it than I did.

What say you?


Firestarter (2022)

MAY 12, 2022


Nearly every negative tweet I've seen (including the one I made myself) about Firestarter has been met with a reply that more or less amounts to "But the score is great!" and... I don't even think it has that much going for it. It's good music, yes, but it doesn't fit the film at all, which makes me wonder if can be considered a "good score" when the job of a score is to enhance the images, and instead it often feels like the composer wasn't actually watching those images. Not that I can blame them, but still: it's a distraction in a film that could use less of them.

Said score is, as you may already know, by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies, the team behind the Lost Themes albums and the soundtracks to the two newest Halloween films (and they'll be doing the third one that's coming this fall). It'd be a get for any film, but what makes this a particularly interesting bit is that Carpenter himself was once set to *direct* the first adaptation of Firestarter back in the early '80s, as his next film after The Thing. But when that film flopped (a fact that is part of the film's lore and yet still hard to believe), Universal had doubts in his abilities and replaced him with Mark Lester. Lester's film was fine, but didn't exactly break box office records either, and us Carpenter fans will always chuckle that it not only failed to match the box office receipts of The Thing, but also that of Christine, the King film Carpenter made instead. Good call, Universal!

So having him come do the score for this new attempt at making Charlie McGee happen is like a weird little consolation prize, and honestly if he did just hand in some leftover demos from Lost Themes and Halloween (which it definitely feels like at times; one cue is almost identical to "The Shape Hunts Allyson") it'd serve them right for insulting him all those years ago. But even if he gave 110% effort and produced his finest work to date, I don't think it'd be enough to make the movie any better, as it never once demonstrates a reason why this, of all King books (not exactly one of his best), had to be updated for 2022. The story of a girl with superpowers (in addition to her eponymous firestarting skills, she can also move objects with her mind) has been done to death over the years - Stranger Things, the various Carries, the X-Men movies, etc. - so since we already have a Firestarter movie (plus a sequel/would-be pilot) I feel the only reason to do it again would be to really modernize it and do something unique.

Instead it... basically just does the same thing. It's not an exact copy, thankfully; Captain Hollister is now a woman, Rainbird is introduced right off the bat to Charlie and Andy (Zac Efron) as a villain instead of posing as a friend, etc. But the beats are all the same nonetheless, with the one thing that could identify it as a modernization - the use of cell phones and computers - written out quickly, as the McGees don't use such things because they're afraid of being tracked. So it just goes through the same story: the parents being experimented on in college, the mom being murdered, Charlie and Andy taking refuge at a farm, Andy being taken to the Shop's HQ, Charlie mounting a would-be rescue... they color out of the lines a bit, but they don't ever make it their own. I kept hoping for a Pet Sematary '19 style pivot (where the daughter got killed instead of baby Gage), but nope, it keeps on playing out the same...

...until the film's final, baffling scene, which I'll obviously be spoiling here so skip this paragraph if you want to remain as stunned into confusion as I was. After burning down the Shop (we assume; it's mostly played out via sound effects) Charlie walks to the nearby coastline, almost seeming like she's about to drown herself now that she has no one/nothing left. But she does have someone: Rainbird! The villain survives this time around and walks up to her, takes her hand, and then picks her up as if promising to start a new life together, without anything to establish why he'd do so or why she'd go along with it (she knows he killed her mother, for starters). It was only then that the movie's reason to exist became clear: they want a new franchise, with Rainbird stepping in to help her harness her powers (for good or evil, it remains unclear). And that's fine, but why not establish it earlier? Or hell, do it halfway through the movie, so she's in a position to choose between him and her father? They hint early on that she would prefer Andy was dead instead of her mom, so the seed was planted for her to look to someone else as her guardian, but then nothing is done with it until these closing seconds (literally; I mean, the credits play over the two of them walking off together).

Such a "cliffhanger" didn't really help my suspicion that the film was intended as a pilot (perhaps for the very Peacock service it's simultaneously being released on with theaters?) instead of a theatrical feature. It LOOKS like a TV show more often than not, and despite the promise of the title, I swear the big house fire in Halloween Kills is more impressive/destructive than anything we see here. Kurtwood Smith pops up as the guy who invented the serum that gave them their powers, now regretting what he's done, and suggests that once she reaches her full potential, she can destroy the entire world! Which, you know, probably wouldn't be how this film ended (though that'd be amazing) but her powers at the end don't seem all that impressive, as if they were holding back for something later. There are some good gags with Charlie lashing out in smaller ways with her powers (if you're a kitty lover... maybe don't see this one), but when it comes to the big showdown at the Shop, it's obnoxiously restrained. I'm not sure what the budget was, but based on what Blumhouse usually spends on their films ($5-10m), it's almost certainly less than they spent on the previous film nearly 30 years ago, even without factoring inflation in, and it often shows.

It also appears to be re-edited. It's only 94 minutes (again, even the older film was 20 minutes longer, at a time when films were generally shorter than they are now) and there are characters who seem important (Kurtwood Smith as the inventor of the serum that gave them their powers, a bully at Charlie's school) but disappear without resolution to their stories. And when Charlie is storming the shop, a guy in a flameproof suit takes off his helmet and says "Charlie...", and the manner that he delivers the line and the way his face was revealed under the helmet suggest that it was someone who we had met before, only we hadn't. The fate of Irving the good Samaritan is left unclear (in the original and the book, Charlie goes back to him after Andy is killed), and I also couldn't quite understand what brought him into the story in the first place, as they approach him needing a ride - but their car was working perfectly fine the last we saw it? I guess they were afraid of being tracked or something, but it still feels like a scene or two was skipped.

Long story short, if you have to watch, do so on Peacock, where maybe strong viewer numbers will convince them to do a series (I mean, we got a MacGruber revival, so anything's possible). I wouldn't mind a Charlie and Rainbird show (both actors are strong and there's obviously a lot of baggage between them that can be worked out over time) where they're like, on the road and helping people, 1970's Incredible Hulk style, and anything that can justify this one's existence can only help. Otherwise, I just don't get why this movie was made beyond giving Carpenter a nice little payday. Beats another Fog remake, I guess.

What say you?


FTP: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

MAY 10, 2022


The mostly American slasher film is more or less evolved (or devolved) from the European giallo film, but that doesn't mean the Americans didn't attempt to do something more giallo-y from time to time. What's funny is that one of the most famous is 1978's Eyes of Laura Mars, which is co-written by none other than John Carpenter, who cemented the slasher with Halloween in the very same year. Carpenter doesn't have much nice to say about the film; it was a script he wrote that was rewritten (and rewritten again after that if I'm understanding) and made without his involvement, so attributing it to him is akin to giving him credit/blaming him for something like Halloween 5.

Anyway, it's a decent little thriller. Faye Dunaway is the titular Laura, a fashion photographer who starts seeing murders as they happen (kind of a useless skill since it's too late to stop them), and Tommy Lee Jones is the detective who at first suspects she's involved and then falls in love with her as he starts to believe her/becomes a protector. We know she's not the killer, but the victims are all connected to her in some way, a plot that sadly means anyone who has ever seen a movie before can probably figure out who the culprit is by the halfway point or so. Whether this was an inherent flaw that dates back to Carpenter's script and was never fixed, or is something that occurred via the rewrites, I don't know. All I know is I wish it was more of a surprise.

What WAS a surprise was seeing Jones in a romantic, good-natured kind of role. There's a part where he is interviewing a pair of ditzy models and clearly amused by how dumb they are, and it's possibly the first time I've ever seen him in a scene that you could imagine Ryan Reynolds or someone like that doing instead. I mean I've seen him go BIG (Batman Forever, for example) but this kind of low-key charm is definitely a change of pace, and if there are more performances like that from him I hope I stumbled across them someday. I also loved Raul Julia (billed as simply "R.J" for whatever reason) as Dunaway's pathetic ex, another against type performance from someone who usually has a commanding presence, a guy you don't want to mess with or simply the coolest guy in the room. The only other time I remember seeing him as a loser was in Overdrawn at the Memory Bank! And he's worse here, like a worthless anteater.

Supposedly this movie is what got director Irvin Kershner the gig on Empire Strikes Back, but I have to assume from both his filmography as a whole and his commentary track here that he's perhaps not the most interesting guy in the world and his successes are largely due to the other people around him as opposed to what he was bringing to the table. In fact I didn't even finish the commentary because it was that dull; he mostly just narrates the movie as if it were hard to follow, only occasionally dipping into insight or behind the scenes info (if I'm understanding him correctly, Julia's in the movie because he happened to be in the hotel where they were shooting something else, and he had the idea to cast him?). After an hour I figured life was too short to listen to the rest since I wasn't learning anything about a movie that wasn't particularly memorable to begin with. I have the novelization though (chalk it up to my longtime habit of buying anything remotely Carpenter related), maybe I'll give it a look someday. Might be fun to be inside the head of the killer, if that's offered.

What say you?

P.S. I literally had no idea I owned this disc (which you can buy HERE, Amazon has retired the little window ads), which I've been wanting to see for a while due to the Carpenter connection. How/when it ended up in the pile is a mystery more involving than the one in the film!


Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness (2022)

MAY 5, 2022



OK, with few exceptions, I've seen all the Marvel movies on opening weekend, either because I liked/loved those characters or I just feared spoilers. But even if I hated the first one (I didn't, in fact it's probably on the upper half of my rankings if I were to try) I would have been out ASAP for Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness, because it was the first new movie from the GOAT Sam Raimi in nearly a decade. And I didn't like that one (Oz), so it was the first since Drag Me To Hell (2009!) that I had a chance of enjoying. It's insane to me to think that it's been 13 years since I last enjoyed a Sam Raimi movie - that's longer than the gap from Evil Dead 2 to For Love of the Game!

Anyway, it doesn't take too long for the film to announce itself as a Raimi one. There's a bit relatively early with the same kind of canted angles and zooms that became something of a calling card, and zooms into people's eyes and that sort of thing - anyone who says the MCU machine is generic and that the filmmakers' voice is missing should shut up after this one (even more interesting when you consider that Raimi was not the original director, with the first film's Scott Derrickson bowing out during pre-production for reasons unknown, making it even more likely that this might end up feeling anonymous). And then in the second half it goes all out, with full own swirling demonic (and talking!) skeletons, zombies, the Classic (!), etc. Hell, the plot even revolves around a spellbook containing dark magic. There's more of his style on display in this "Marvel movie" than there is in some of his other films where much less was riding on its success.

(I'm not going to get into major spoilers, but I am assuming you've seen the trailers. If not - tread lightly!)

And yeah, it does kinda sorta qualify as horror, at least in the same way that Army of Darkness does. Both films are adventure/fantasy blends with heavy supernatural tones and a few scary bits, so I think it's fair to include here (plus I've done too many "FTP" articles in a row and wanted to do something meatier!). The plot is as much of a sequel to WandaVision as it is to Doctor Strange (more on that soon), with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) realizing she can be united with her children in one of the many parallel universes but needs access to them to get there, and the key to that is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to jump between them only doesn't know how to control it. So Strange basically gets caught in the middle, trying to protect America while also hoping to save his former friend/ally from becoming an unredeemable monster.

So how does that make it horror? Well Strange first encounters America when she's on the run from a giant eyeball monster, and later Wanda uses some kind of magic nonsense that essentially melts people (not too gory, but "gooey" enough for a PG-13 movie that six year olds are likely to be watching). As she gets more crazed, she uses more violent means - one major character is sliced in half! She also makes like Samara at one point, climbing all jerkily out of a reflective surface, and later when she tries to possess another universe's (normal) Wanda, it's played as a straight up Insidious/Conjuring kind of scene. Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play multiple versions of Strange, and one of them is evil (again, this was in the trailer), which might scare younger viewers when their hero is suddenly "being mean." And then as mentioned, demons and zombies enter the mix, though I can't get into specifics without spoilers so you'll just have to trust me. I mean, if we allow Captain America 2 to count as a spy thriller and Logan as a western, I think it's more than fair to call this a horror movie, at least when stacked against the others (and, again, Raimi's own genre-mashup Army of Darkness).

It also satisfies as another cog in the Marvel machine, with some world building, references to other films (Strange talks about his recent adventure with Spider-Man), and - of course - a mid credits scene that adds a new actor/character to the mix. We are also treated to what may be the debut of a major Marvel player who has been sidelined thus far in the MCU, though given the multiverse concept it's not necessarily the one who will be getting their own movie later. And yes, as the trailers gave away, Patrick Stewart shows up as you know who, a scene that still packed a punch despite the advance spoiler (it's helped by a particular music cue that older fans will cream over). The multiverse stuff isn't as deep as you might think given that it's in the title (honestly, Spider-Man did a better job of fleshing out the possibilities, since most of its use here isn't about tying in other iterations of these characters), but I think that's a good thing. Otherwise it'd threaten to make Strange a supporting player in his own movie, but Raimi and writer Michael Waldron (who was the guru behind the Loki show) manage to find that balance.

Where it does kind of lack, however, is in the "trippy visual" department, which was one of the calling cards of the first film. I toyed with actually going to see this in 3D, and I'm glad I ultimately opted for 2D (especially since my left contact was bugging me the entire time, goddamnit) as there was only really one big sequence that would have been fun to watch with the added immersion (you've seen a snippet in the trailer, when Strange's face is turning into blocks - it's part of a montage of him and America rapidly traveling through several universes). Strange's powers here are more of the "make a shield" or "wave my hands around and pull something out of nowhere" variety, without any of the city warping kinda stuff that was seen throughout the first film (though there is an out of nowhere bit involving sheet music that, for me, made up for it, but I know will have some people whining almost as much as they do about "emo Peter"). So if that was a big part of the first film's appeal for you, you might be disappointed to see it more or less replaced with the horror elements. Likewise, Chiwetel Ejiofor does return as Mordo, but in a variant form that is still an ally, so his promise as a Big Bad at the end of Strange 1 remains unfulfilled for now.

The other thing that might disappoint folks is that you really probably should watch WandaVision, as Wanda's character won't really make sense to you if the last you saw her was at the end of Endgame. The movie wastes no time with turning her into a villain; I thought it'd be a mid-movie shift but nope, Strange goes to her for help once he realizes witchcraft might be involved, and within the same conversation realizes she's actually the one who is trying to get America's powers (which will kill her) in the first place. And her whole thing is about her kids, who, of course, didn't exist in the previous MCU movies. It won't be incomprehensible or anything, but the movie sure does assume you've seen them and spends little time recapping WandaVision's storyline for those who may have missed it, which might be a constant distraction when you're used to Wanda being on the good side of things. Ultimately, it's kind of weird that if you're a Raimi fan who isn't Marvel-versed and want to have context for what you're about to see, it's probably more important to watch WandaVision and No Way Home than it is to watch the first Doctor Strange movie.

Otherwise, it's a blast. It's not too long (just over two hours including the credits), so that's a relief as these things have been getting a bit too demanding of our free time lately (No Way Home was 2.5 hrs, and Eternals was even longer), and has plenty of action and spectacle to go along with all the mumbo jumbo. There's even time for character work; Strange's relationship with Christine (Rachel McAdams) has a throughline with a rather sweet denouement, and even though she spends most of the movie trying to kill our heroes, they still find time to humanize Wanda when necessary. I'm sure some folks will be let down that Strange doesn't visit a multiverse with Nic Cage's Ghost Rider or something like that (i.e. the people who seem to think that a Marvel movie/show's only value is what it's promising for the next one) but if you are a fan of the enterprise as a whole I think you'll be pleased to see more flavors being added to the mix. And if you're a Raimi fan, I can't imagine how you'd walk out disappointed after seeing him do his thing with what appears to be a blank check - and yes, he does bring the *other* BC along for the ride.

What say you?

P.S. Danny Elfman's score is quite good, but there's a quick part where it sounds like he is aping Christopher Young's Hellraiser-y kind of compositions, which I truly hope is an intentional little joke about his break with Raimi (spurned by Raimi wanting Elfman to make music that sounded like Young's) which led to Young composing Spider-Man 3 and Drag Me To Hell. Since they have obviously patched things up (Elfman did Oz too), I like to think they laugh about it now. It's about a minute into track 19 ("Stranger Things Will Happen") on the score release, you tell me if I'm crazy.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget